Goldenthal Opera Tops Lincoln Center Festival’s 10th Anniversary Season

Several times during The Lincoln Center Festival’s press conference announcing this summer’s 10th anniversary season, its artistic director Nigel Redden stated that their New York premiere performances of Elliot Goldenthal’s Grendel will be the most ambitious undertaking in the festival’s history. The elaborateness of the Academy Award-winning composer’s first opera, created in collaboration with his stage and film auteur wife Julie Taymor and poet J. D. McClatchy, was later reiterated in remarks by Placido Domingo. (Domingo is artistic director of the Los Angeles Opera, the work’s co-commissioner and the company which will present the work’s world premiere on May 27 in L.A.’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.)

But size and scope are not nearly as significant as the political implications of this new work which will receive four New York performances at Lincoln Center’s New York State Theater (July 11, 13, 15 and 16). Grendel juxtaposes the classic thousand year-old Anglo Saxon epic about Beowulf slaying a murderous monster named Grendel with John Gardner’s 1971 novel telling the story from Grendel’s point of view. Taymor called attention to their plan to have Grendel sing in English while the so-called heroes will sing in Anglo Saxon, a language which is no longer spoken. This linguistic devise was done to make the audience immediately identify with the “monster.” She noted that in these times where the “medieval” idea of a “fight between good and evil” has once again become contemporary, it is important to experience information from “the enemy’s point of view.” (Goldenthal, also on hand, chose not to talk about the opera at all and instead deadpanly told press conference attendees about witnessing a beaver silence two large groups of birds in the Hudson River. Go figure!)

Grendel is just one of several thought-provoking productions scheduled for this year’s summer festival which will take place, as Domingo put it, “at that time of hot New York” from July 10th through July 30th. To counterpoint Goldenthal’s opera, the Festival will revive Benjamin Bagby’s recitation of Beowulf in the original Anglo Saxon. There will also be a marathon presentation of the complete plays of 19th century Irish playwright John Synge and a Thai rock opera based on the Ramayana. Other American composers featured in this summer’s fare include Steven Mackey, whose Heavy Light will serve as part of the score for Quarternary, a new dance choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon for the San Francisco Ballet (July 29 and 30). And Daniel Bernard Roumain has created original music and arrangements for Blind Date, a multi-media dance work by B.T. Jones which ought to ignite the hottest political fires of the summer (July 18, 19, 20). According to the maverick choreographer, “Modernism was about ignoring that we’re all different. But we now know that this country never melted. The discourse has been hijacked…so all gloves are off now.”

Personally, I continue to miss the composer retrospectives, which in the earliest seasons of the festival focussed on several Americans (Morton Feldman, Steve Reich, Meredith Monk). But it’s great to see that new work involving contemporary American composers continues to prominently share the international stage of a festival that has now presented work from 54 countries around the world. And, perhaps I’m even more inspired by Domingo’s comment about the future of new music at the Los Angeles Opera: “Every now & then, more now than then, we are commissioning new work.”